I look down at the ankles of my worn-out khakis and see the mud stuck within each crease. I just can’t bare the thought of washing them, as I don’t want any bit of Kampuchea to leave me before it has to. We’ve come so far and it’s barely seeping into my consciousness that it’s almost coming to a close. As I sit in the van back from Srayang, I lean my head against the open window and close my eyes. When I close my eyes: I lose where I am. For a moment I can hear the cacophony of bumper cars working their way through the streets of Manhattan. I see the littered side walk of 14th street. My walk is disrupted by the voices of my neighborhood, my troves of older companions that line the street, greeting me with their smiles, salutes and unsuspecting pats on the back. And then it all fades. I open my eyes and I’m back trekking the terracotta back roads of Kampuchea. The lush greenery surrounds my front seat view from the van. Then my eyes close again and behind my eyelids lies everything familiar, my world, and my home. I want to force my eyes to stay open, as I enjoy the bumpy road and my friends piled in the seats behind me.
My eyes keep closing shut, deciding for me that I need a break. Sleep has become an escape. An escape from every contradiction that exists in every space we inhabit. An escape from every difficult place. An escape from the staggering autobiographic stories I learn as I sit listening and observing in people’s homes. And then I am back, back to reality. Back to the sheer beauty, the smiles of markets and the families eating outside together after a long days work. Ultimately without that escape I can’t just enjoy Chutes and Ladders with a group of resilient and bright girls in the back of their classroom. I can’t enjoy their spirits and broad smiles, its like they turn saccharine as I realize their circumstances, their struggle, and how far they are from their own sense of home. I’m back to exclamations like, “teacher show me how to spell. I love English, please teach me.” With my escape I can then enjoy her smile, and simply marvel as a group of girls and I take a whirl at Chutes and Ladders, a game my sister and I spent our childhoods giggling through. There’s so much beauty here and I don’t want to miss any of it. As the road narrows I am grateful for each patch of brush at the side of the road. Ultimately I am lost in wonder, the greenery begins to mesh together with the girls broad smiles as we spin for turns at Chutes and Ladders.